E. Coli Outbreak and Ethanol By-Product - Is There a Link?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008 by: Teri Lee Gruss
Tags: e.coli, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) On September 23rd, 2007 a 20 year old Cold Spring, MN woman named Stephanie Smith ate E. coli contaminated ground beef. Five days later, with severe intestinal cramping she was admitted to a local hospital. Today she is in a drug-induced coma at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

While ethanol production is surging, pushing the cost of feed corn higher, cattle producers have started to use a by-product of ethanol production in livestock and poultry feed. This by-product is called distiller's grain (DGs) and it is presently a common practice to replace a percentage of corn based livestock and poultry feed with DGs.

Researchers at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine conducted three studies over a two year period to assess the effects of distiller's grain on beef cattle. What they found has led to questions regarding the increased incidence of E. coli 0157 outbreaks this year.

KSU researchers T.G. Nagaraja, Professor of Microbiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Jim Drouillard, Professor of Animal Sciences and Industry found that beef cattle fed a diet consisting of 25% distillers grain experienced a "two fold increase in the incidence of e.coli 0157" as measured in the animals' manure.

In a December 14th, 2007 KSU News Release, Nagaraja and Drouillard point out that additional research is needed before they can make recommendations to the cattle industry regarding their findings. Nagaraja added that they need to determine if there is " a component in the product (DGs) that sets up the growth of E. coli 0157". He also emphasized that distiller's grain does not contain E. coli.

Statistics from Cattle Network Magazine (CNM) online indicate that "The projections assume that 75 percent of distiller's grains is used in domestic livestock sector feeding. Of the portion of distillers grains used for domestic livestock feeding, 80 percent is assumed to be used for beef cattle, 10 percent for dairy, and 5 percent each for poultry and hogs".

In the CNM article Livestock Sector Use of Distillers Grains, a Coproduct of Ethanol Production the publication indicates that" Cattle feedlots located close to an ethanol plant will benefit from a steady supply of distillers grains".

The Center for Disease Control reports that on September 29th, 2007 21.7 million pounds of frozen ground beef patties were recalled by the USDA due to a multi-state outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 infections. The first case was reported on July 5th and by October 26th, 40 cases of E. coli infection were reported. According to the CDC, two people developed a condition called hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a form of kidney failure caused by E. Coli 0157: H7.

KSU researcher Mr. Nagaraja emphasizes that "there is no evidence to suggest that a recent increase in the number of meat recalls related to E. coli 0157 has any connection to the practice of feeding distiller's grains". He added that "more research is needed before cattle feeders and the public should reach definitive conclusions".

According to a November 11, 2007 article in the Topeka Capital Journal online, Minneapolis based Cargill subsidiary Emerald Renewable Energy is set to build a $200 million dollar ethanol refinery in Kansas. US ethanol production is projected to hit 10 billion gallons annually, ahead of government goals for 2012.

"The plant in Shawnee County would inhale 40 million bushels of corn annually. (And about 1.1 million gallons of water a day). It would expel 100 million gallons of ethanol for blending with gasoline and 330,000 tons of distiller's grain, a high-nutrient feed for livestock. The process would generate an estimated 500 tons of air pollution each year, much of it carbon dioxide tied to global warming".

From a recent St. Cloud(Minnesota)Times newspaper article covering the Stephanie Smith story, "Doug Schultz, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health, said he can't confirm whether Stephanie's illness has been directly linked to the Sam's Club E. coli bacteria outbreak, which is still under investigation". The ground beef was apparently supplied by Cargill.

The KSU researchers aren't the only ones that look forward to further research into their disturbing findings. Is there an association between the increased use of distiller's grain in animal feed and a spiraling incidence of E.coli contaminated ground beef?

It's too early to say but, a two fold increase in the incidence of E. coli 0157 in beef cattle fed distiller's grain from ethanol should propel research into the fast lane, especially in light of the recent 21.7 million pound ground beef recall.

K-State Researchers Say It's Too Soon for Conclusions on Feeding Ethanol Byproduct to Cattle, Dec. 14, 2007
Livestock Sector Use of Distillers Grains, a Coproduct of Ethanol Production
Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157 Infections Linked to Topp's Brand Ground Beef Patties
When E. coli strikes, who pays? By Matt McKinney, Star Tribune
Last update: November 10, 2007
St. Cloud Times Online
Family struck by E. coli waits, watches By Kirsti Marohn

About the author

Teri Lee Gruss, MS Human Nutrition

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